This is the third part in a series on whether the Bible is sexist and racist. We introduced the question in Part 1 and explored whether the Bible is sexist in Part 2 by going back to the beginning, back to the creation story, where God introduces us to the crown of His Creation, Adam and Eve. We will explore what the Bible reveals to us about God’s view of racism in this Part 3 of the series before turning to what Jesus had to say about sexism in Part 4 and racism in Part 5.
As we try to understand what the Bible has to say about racism, I want to go back to Adam and Eve again. They are depicted in the Bible as representative of the human race. Genesis, therefore, has application not only to gender relations but to race relations as well.
In Genesis we will look at clues for what God intended when He created the world and the people in it,. Then we will go to Revelations to glimpse how things will ultimately be when the redemption of the world is complete and God’s purpose is fulfilled.
This sweep, from Genesis to Revelation, from beginning to end, will show us the big picture on how God sees views race.
A main theme of Genesis is the instruction from God to Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply”. This was God’s instruction to them before their idyllic setting was disrupted by an exercise of discretion to choose their own way, rather than follow God’s way. That instruction to be fruitful and multiply is repeated again and again as the story of humankind unfolds in the Bible.
Most of that story of humankind is the story of us not doing as God instructed. The story of Babel is an example. Instead of going out and populating the earth (an extension of being fruitful and multiplying), they hunkered down in one place, resisting the direction to go out into the world.
Instead of going out and populating the earth, the people built a large city with one language in common. Instead of expanding and diversifying, they dug in and became homogeneous. So, God scattered them and mixed up their languages.
From this story, we might intuit that God had a plan for diversity. The oppositional impulse of the people, however, was homogeneity.
Jump forward to the end of time where we get a glimpse of heaven. John describes what he sees this way at the end of time, at the culmination and fruition of God’s ultimate purpose:
“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…. and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God….’”
In John’s vision of heaven, we get a glimpse of people from all nations and tribes and tongues coming together before God and praising Him in their own languages. This is a picture of diversity at its best: each nation, tribe and people is represented, in their own unique languages, and in all their differences, praising God in unison.
Paul confirmed this unity in diversity and diversity in unity is what God values when he told the Romans,
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him.”
These are the overarching themes from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Genesis reveals how God scattered the people of Babel to create diversity when all the people wanted was homogeneity, and Revelation reveals that the diversity God intended from the beginning will be beautifully preserved in heaven. This is not a picture of racism, but a celebration of racial differences united in God.
But aren’t there passages in the Bible that contradict this theme? Doesn’t God curse groups of people? Didn’t God command genocide? Isn’t that the worst kind of racism imaginable?
One story that has prompted some people to answer these questions in the affirmative is the command to the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites. This is not a subject that can be covered well in this short piece, but a little insight is in order.
For one thing, the Canaanites were the most racially similar people to the Israelites of any people group at the time. They had similar language, heritage, culture, genetics, etc. The story of God instructing the Israelites to drive the Canaanites out of the land was not about ethnicity. The story has to do with moral judgment among other things.
Many people, though, have a problem with the concept that the Israelites were God’s chosen people. Why should God choose one people group over another? That doesn’t seem fair or consistent with the idea of racial diversity. So it may seem at first blush, but we need to ask: for what purpose did God choose Abraham and his descendants?
In Genesis 12:1-3, we read that God chose Abraham to bless him, But not just Abraham and his descendants, the plan was to bless “all the families of the earth” through Abraham. (Note the similarity to the initial instructions to “be fruitful and multiply”.) He was chosen for a purpose, and that purpose was to bestow blessing on all the nations of the earth.
This is not divine favoritism; it is simply God working through a man and his descendants who were responsive to Him to accomplish God’s purpose. That purpose was stated from the beginning: to bless all the nations of the earth.
We get glimpses of God’s heart toward others in many places throughout the Bible. For instance, God sent Jonah to the Ninevites, enemies of the people of Israel, to warn them of coming judgment. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a people that often antagonized and subjugated the Israelites to its power. That might explains why Jonah responds be running away. He doesn’t want to go to warn his peoples’ enemies to turn from God’s judgment!
Through God’s divine influence, Jonah ends up going reluctantly to Nineveh anyway. He gives them the message God told him to give. The Ninevites repent and disaster is averted for them. But, Jonah is angry with God. He says:
“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”
In other words, Jonah knew God would save them (because that’s the way God is), and Jonah didn’t want to warn them or for them to be saved. But God did! Jonah is the way we tend to be, but his behavior is exemplary of God.
How often do we blame God for the attitudes and actions of people? Not even “God’s people” represent Him well. Though every man be a liar, God is true! (Echoing Paul’s words in Romans 3:4)
Jonah’s attitude and his anger towards the Ninevites was racist. But God was intent on saving and blessing Nineveh through Jonah in spite of Jonah’s racism. God’s response is: “Should I not have compassion on the 120,000 people in Nineveh?” (Jonah 4:11)
Jonah, one of God’s “chosen people” was racist, but God is not racist. He loves all people and desires to bless and save all people, even if He has to use racist people sometimes to do it. (Perhaps, because there are no other people!)
We see this is in the way God instructed the Israelites, His chosen nation, to relate to the strangers in their midst. The Bible is very explicit about those instructions. They were not to wrong or oppress the strangers, foreigners, aliens in their land.
In fact, nearly everywhere God instructed His people to care and provide for orphans and widows He also instructed them to care and provide for the strangers (foreigners residing among them). God wanted the foreigners to be embraced and incorporated into society and to be loved. (These instructions to care for foreigners (Lev. 19:9) are found in the same context of the famous instructions to “love your neighbor as yourself”. (Lev. 19:18))
When we look for it, we see God’s heart everywhere in the Bible, even in the Old Testament. It isn’t all about God’s chosen people, but about God using the people He chose to accomplish His purposes to bless all people (even in spite of the people through whom He chose to accomplish His purposes at times).
We have begun to at the Bible’s overarching themes as they relate to sexism and racism, but nowhere is the Bible clearer about God’s intentions than through the words and life of Jesus, who is described as “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being”. (Hebrews 1:3) So we turn next to what we can learn from Jesus about God’s view of sexism and then to what we can learn from Jesus about God’s view of racism.
 This one of the more difficult subjects in the Bible to deal with. At least twice, God is revealed to have told the Israelites to wipe out or drive out whole people groups: once when the Israelites returned to the Promised Land from Egypt; and again some years later (because they never did follow through the first time). Following are just a few attempts to explain: From Apologetics Press –God’s Just Destruction of the Canaanites; From DesiringGod.org – What Made It Okay for God to Kill Women and Children In the Old Testament?; and from BeThinking.org – Old Testament Mass Killings.